PACA launches bid to save 3 buildings in way of Central High expansion

PACA launches bid to save 3 buildings in way of Central High expansion

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CHAMPAIGN — Eleven months after voters gave the Champaign school district the all-clear to build a new Central High School in its old neighborhood, local preservationists hope to put the brakes on its plans to bulldoze three nearby buildings it owns.

Tom Garza, executive director of the Preservation and Conservation Association, said Monday he turned in to the Champaign planning department the paperwork required to spare three buildings the school district bought for the expansion of Central's campus.

Garza said he doesn't believe PACA's proposal to designate as local landmarks the West Church Street structures commonly known as the Bailey House (606), Burnham House (603) and Phillipe Mansion/McKinley Family YMCA (500) run counter to the public's wishes.

"When people voted for the referendum, it wasn't stated how they were going to accomplish it," he said Monday. "The voters were never faced with the information that the district intended to destroy such a large part of the neighborhood.

"They voted to keep Central central. They didn't vote to demolish the buildings. This is a trade-off we were never told about."

The map below shows all the properties the school district has bought for the expansion of Central High School, with the three PACA wants designated as local landmarks highlighted in orange. Click on each one for more details.

The rebuilt and renovated Central isn't expected to welcome its first students until fall 2022. The project carries a price tag of $87.1 million.

School board President Chris Kloeppel said city officials contacted Unit 4 on Monday afternoon to inform the district of PACA's landmark applications.

"I think there is a process for everything, and they (PACA) are exploring their options," Kloeppel said.

Kloeppel said he was committed to an open discussion of the issue.

"I think we can have a public discussion about it, and I know the city is involved in this process," he said. "We are the owners of those properties now, and I look forward to having a public discussion about this through the entire process."

Garza said PACA doesn't have the funds it would take to buy the three properties, and even if it did, it seems unlikely that Unit 4 would want to sell them.

"But we could raise money for saving them if we were given the option," Garza said.

"The idea is to recognize the houses as being valuable historic properties as opposed to being disposable," he added. "We would like the community to recognize it as well. We are concerned with the overall impact on the neighborhood, as well as the ongoing loss of incredible historic properties in Champaign."

If PACA is successful in achieving local landmark status, the three buildings would be "protected from demolition or exterior alterations which negatively affect the historic character of the property," according to provisions set by the city's planning and development department.

But before that happens, PACA would need to get three rounds of approval.

The first could happen as soon as Nov. 2, when the Historic Preservation Commission is set to hear the issue, said Champaign Planning and Development Director Bruce Knight.

If it advances, the next step would be the Plan Commission. It's set to meet Nov. 15.

That agency would then make a recommendation to the full city council, which could consider the issue at its Dec. 5 meeting.

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787 wrote on October 10, 2017 at 1:10 pm

Yes, let's do everything that we can, to make this Central High School project as expensive and as complicated as humanly possible.

If PACA wants to save them, then PACA needs to buy the buildings and move them out of the way.

Unit 4 can sell all three of them to PACA for the bargain price of $1 each... heck, all 3 of them for $1, and then save thousands on the demolition costs. 

Objective Reporter wrote on October 10, 2017 at 8:10 am

Agreed.  And it's been known for a long time that those buildings are going to be demolished.

Champaign Guest wrote on October 10, 2017 at 8:10 am

Well, it was mentioned in the News-Gazette

at least once prior to the referendum that the buildings were likely to be demolished.  It also mentioned the possibility of moving them, but I've always expected demolition.

rsp wrote on October 10, 2017 at 11:10 am

I remember the discussion from before the vote, and the Mattis house was used as apartments if I remember correctly so the inside is no longer the same. I think when they looked into moving it they determined it couldn't because of it's size. Plus there were objections because "part of it's historical significance is tied to the location", which many people probably never paid any attention to.

The only way they are likely to save these houses is if they raise the money, find places to put them, and move them in pieces. It's what other locations are doing. The school district indicated last year a willingness to work with people to save them. The costs of caring for these house would be expensive for the school district.